By Colin Patrick Brady
On Sept. 23 a group of journalists and other interested parties toured Decatur’s Midwest Inland Port (MIP).
The tour, hosted by The Economic Development Corporation of Decatur & Macon County (EDC) was led by current EDC President Larry Altenbaumer. The goal of the tour was to promote current and future economic opportunities available via what is indeed a unique and critical bit of real estate which, though sitting in Decatur’s city center, has influence and breadth of transmission truly global in reach.
According to Altenbaumer, both in a press release and again throughout the tour – “I continue to believe that the Midwest Inland Port is the most significant economic development opportunity this region has seen in the past 50 years. This
After a briefing on the history, development and future plans of the MIP hosted at Decatur’s Richland Community College, a chartered bus shuttled visitors, including Decatur and Springfield business leaders, some members of the state and city government and various members of the press, on a tour of the immediate campus of the Midwest Inland Port. During the tour, attendees were treated to a rare view of the scope of the port as well as its reach. It was striking to realize just how unassuming and easy to overlook an enormous piece of infrastructure can be. Here is a vital global hub through which massive amounts of cargo pass daily but the uninitiated could be forgiven for passing it by without a second glance.
When the term “port” is bandied about, visions of bustling gantries in harbor cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, etc. come to mind. However, just as important are inland ports such as those we find in modestly-sized and perhaps less exotic locales like Decatur.
Jennifer Bennett, of Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, was the guide for a significant portion of the bus tour as guests were shuttled around the immediate vicinity of the MIP. Also providing commentary were Ryan McCready, the present president of Decatur’s EDC, along with Altenbaumer.
The MIP’s role is “to provide another arrow in the quiver of the central Illinois’ infrastructure, and to utilize and existing service and set of structures in a regional effort to make the area more robust,” said McCready, who began his tenure as EDC president in January of 2015.
“ADM has been my job for most of my adult life. I am very passionate about Decatur,” said lifelong resident Bennett. She emphasizes, however, that the MIP is not expressly owned nor affiliated with ADM. Bennett describes it as a port connected to a seaport via rail and designed to speed the flow of cargo between supply and demand destinations.
Altenbaumer and Bennett describe Illinois as being second in the nation in terms of sheer length and volume of railroads, measuring in at what they estimate to be around 7,000 miles of track throughout the state and boasting a total of seven class one railroad systems. Class one systems, Bennett says, carry more freight than any other across the United States and Canada. They also said that Illinois hosts the nation’s third largest number of public road miles including interstates, highways, business roads, etc. Furthermore, Illinois freight tonnage weighs in as the nation’s third largest as well. Chicago alone, per Bennett, is the busiest rail hub in the whole of the United States and handles a quarter of the nation’s freight and rail traffic. Bennett cites an estimate that over the next 30 years “demand for freight and rail service in Chicago alone is expected to double.”
Bennett and Altenbaumer explained that rail access, interstate and highway access are all three easily accessed from the MIP. Once goods arrive, many options of logistical travel are readily accessible. Containers are filled and placed upon trains or semi-trucks. The rail-switching yard comprises something like 550 total acres, boasts 512 switches and can load or unload up to 52 total trains per day. Furthermore, an estimated 95 million consumers within a 500-mile radius of the MIP can be reached daily.
Two target markets are key customers of the traffic passing through the MIP, and these consist of local and regional business interests as well as international and domestic businesses. Non-local and international businesses require a mix of imports and exports for a fluid match-back program. Bennett explains that “foreign consultants have been spoken to regarding the establishment of consolidated distribution centers as well as manufacturer warehouses along the way for the picking up and dropping up of goods.”
Allison Fayfich, intermodal business manager at Archer Daniels Midland, spoke to the timely necessity of a localized facility like the MIP. According to Fayfich, “simplify trucking and things are made much easier,” which she identified as the purpose and service provided by the Midwest Inland Port.
Illinois State Representative Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, sees the MIP as a real, in the moment piece of central Illinois infrastructure benefiting the region as well as the world at large. “The opportunity for economic growth because of the Inland Port and its existing and future potential is something that we cannot look away from.”
To learn more about the Midwest Inland Port visit www.midwestinlandport.com.
Colin Patrick Brady is a freelance writer from Decatur.